Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: Buying Your Next Bike

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

There are few positives to come out of being in a motorcycle accident. Even if you were as fortunate as I was and escape with very minor injuries, you have to deal with the damage to your motorcycle. Worse, if you’re in a situation such as mine, is when your insurance company says the damage to your bike is too high compared to its overall value and declares it a total write-off.

But if there’s one good thing to come out of losing your motorcycle, it’s getting the opportunity to buy your next one.

In the last installment of our Motorcycle Beginner Year 2 series, my beloved Suzuki GS500E was declared a total loss after being hit from behind by an inattentive driver who failed to stop in time. My insurance provider issued a check for $1,356 ($1200 Canadian for the bike plus $156 for sales tax) and claimed the GS500 as salvage.

The first thing people ask after hearing about my accident and learning I escaped with just a minor wrist sprain is whether I intend to continue riding. The answer to that of course is a definitive yes, though it will come down to whether I can find the right bike.

My Suzuki GS500E was a very capable daily commuter. Now I need to find a replacement.

I’ve written in the past about different factors I considered when I bought my first bike, and some of those qualities have changed after nearly 3000 miles of riding experience. For my next bike, I would rather buy a new motorcycle rather than a pre-owned one. Yes, used bikes are more affordable, but as I found out with my 1989 GS500E, the lower book value of a used motorcycle means it is much easier for repair costs to exceed the cost of the machine, making them more likely to be written off by the insurance company.

I’m not the only person in’s Toronto office who has recently bought a motorcycle over the past year. Indeed, about a half-dozen others in the office have purchased a new ride; some of them were riders buying their first bikes, others traded in their first motorcycles for their second, and a few people were returning to the sport after a period without riding

In this installment, I spoke with a few of my co-workers to hear their stories and what factors they considered when buying their next, and in some cases, first, motorcycle.

Video Producers Chris and Adam

Two of the people I talked to were our video producers Chris Blanchette and Adam Wood. Mirroring my experiences, Chris got his motorcycle license last year, went through the rider training program at Toronto’s Humber College, and purchased a Suzuki for his first bike. In his case, Chris’ first bike was a 2003 Suzuki SV650S.

This year, Chris moved up to a Yamaha YZF-R6 and sold his SV650 to Adam who got his motorcycle license this spring. For Chris, the R6 was the bike he always wanted, but for his first year of riding, he bought the SV650 to gain experience on a motorcycle that was cheaper to insure. With a year of riding on his resume, the insurance premiums on an R6 decreased to a rate Chris found acceptable, so he made the change.

Chris always knew he wanted a Yamaha R6. After a year on his SV650, he got his dream bike.

“I wanted something faster and more awesome,” says Chris, who uses his R6 as his daily commuter. Chris says the R6 has much more power than the SV650 and he feels more confident going into corners on the supersport. The SV, however, had more torque at lower revs, making it better for riding in the city. On the open freeways however, Chris says he enjoys the R6’s top-end power.

For Adam, the SV650 offers enough power for his needs. “I’m not doing the crazy corners like Chris or somebody else who’s more advanced, I’m not going on on-ramps and off-ramps and leaning the bike hard, I’m just having fun,” says Adam. “The bike is sporty but it’s also a comfortable bike to be on for a period of time, and that’s something that I like, so I’ll probably hang on to it for a while.”

Comfort was one of the primary factors Adam sought in a bike. At 6’4" in height, Adam finds the ergonomics on the R6 straining and prefers the SV650’s rider triangle.

Adam moved to Toronto to join our team last fall and believed a motorcycle would be the perfect commuter for him. As he started riding, however, Adam realized the benefits weren’t as great as he expected.

“I was using it as a commuter off the bat because I thought it was going to be convenient. I can park right outside my door for free, so the convenience was huge,” says Adam. “But I found the more I commuted, the more frustrated I got with traffic and the actual length of the trip for the distance I had to travel.”

Adam and Chris have been friends for years so when Adam wanted a good beginner bike, Chris offered his 2003 Suzuki SV650S.
Adam lives about 5 miles away from the office but he found the local traffic, which often includes slow, lane-blocking streetcars, stretched his commuting time to nearly 30 minutes each way. By contrast, taking public transit and riding his bicycle takes nearly the same amount of time yet proved to be less frustrating. Ironically, some of the advantages Adam sites commuting on his bicycle has over riding his motorcycle are the same ones many motorcyclists claim over driving cars.

“I ride my bicycle, it took around the same time, if not faster, just because I could work my way around traffic, I could find side streets and go where the motorcycle couldn’t,” says Adam.

Adam still commutes on his SV650 a few times a week but says he finds himself riding his motorcycle more often at night or on the weekend.

“I can get out of the city because city riding is fun only up to a certain point,” says Adam. “You want to find the twisty roads, you want the find the turns, stuff that’s not necessarily stop and go every light.”

Adam’s tale offers two lessons. Commuting on a motorcycle isn’t for everyone, and sometimes, you may not end up using your motorcycle for what you originally intended.

Business Development Manager Jordan

While Adam is a relative newcomer to the sport, Jordan Marrison is a returning veteran. A business development manager for some of’s automotive sister sites, Jordan returned to riding after a 20-year break with a 2010 BMW F800R.

“I came back to riding after 20 years off and bought the F800 because I wanted to get back into the sport and see if I still liked it,” says Jordan. “I spent two seasons with that bike, put nearly 7000 km on it (about 4000 miles), and I thought that I liked it, but there were certain things that I didn’t like.”

Jordan returned to riding after a 20-year break with a BMW F800R.

While he found the F800R a capable machine, he says it did not quite suit his needs. Unlike Chris and Adam, Jordan never intended to use his motorcycle as an everyday commuting vehicle. Instead, Jordan spent his saddle time on the weekends, riding with friends and traveling 190 miles up to his cottage. After two riding seasons on his F800R, Jordan traded it in for a 2010 BMW K1300R.

“I liked returning to the sport, I liked riding with my friends, all the social aspects of it, but the bike itself wasn’t what I wanted it to be,” says Jordan. “I wanted something a little bigger, a bigger displacement. I wanted a four-cylinder bike, I wanted something that was better for a long distance. Plus I always liked the K1300R which was kind of a big brother to the F800R, styling-wise and in the seating position. It was the logical progression for me to move up.”

Jordan says the BMW K1300R was a more capable sport tourer for longer distances. This photo was taken during a ride though Quebec.

Jordan appreciated the smoothness of the K1300’s inline-four engine and longer wheelbase and found it was a more capable machine for his needs. Brand loyalty was another important factor for Jordan, so when he went shopping for a new bike, he knew he wanted another BMW.

Community Director Stew

Brand loyalty is a familiar concept for Stew Lawson. Stew heads the company’s community management team which includes the forum network. Overseeing hundreds of forum sites, many of which are devoted to specific manufacturers and models such as, and, he knows how loyal many motorcycle enthusiasts are.

Stew started riding a few years ago on a 2007 Honda CBR600RR. For Stew, riding offers an opportunity to escape, to disconnect himself from his worries and reduce his world to himself, his bike, and the road.

“That’s the best part about a bike. You can get on a bike for hours and no one can get a hold of you,” says Stew. “Your phone’s going to ring but you can’t pick it up, you can’t even feel it. I guess with technology being in our faces all the time, it’s good being able to disconnect completely, and that’s what the bike is: it’s a big disconnection for me.”

Stew decked out his Honda CBR600RR in Red Bull fairings with orange wheels.

Like myself, Stew was involved in a motorcycle accident, only his was at a much higher speed. Late last summer, Stew spilled the CBR trying to avoid a car that pulled suddenly into his path. He braked hard to avoid the car but the rear wheel locked and he high-sided.

“Once you have been in a major accident – in mine, I flew off the bike at 45, 55 mph – so once you’ve been in a major accident, you realize that people don’t see you,” says Stew. “You always think that ‘I’m going to pay attention. I can see people in the mirror, I’m watching the driver, I see his mannerisms,’ but people don’t see you. At the end of the day, you have to assume that every other driver does not see you.”

Fortunately, Stew was not too seriously injured in his accident, but the crash did put a premature end to his riding last season. The accident didn’t stop Stew from riding however, and over the winter, he went shopping for a new motorcycle.

Stew initially wanted to stay with Honda and get a CBR1000RR. When he went looking for a new bike, however, he ended up buying a 2012 BMW S1000RR.

“I always want the best, and in my mind, the CBR600RR was the best 600 in terms of comfort, handling, weight and power,” says Stew. “I wanted to go to the CBR1000RR because I love the Hondas, but I think the appeal was the price of the S1000RR.”

Though it may be best known for its horsepower numbers, the BMW S1000RR appealed to Stew because of its safety technologies such as traction control and ABS.

Stew liked the combination of high performance with a reasonable price for the BMW S1000RR, but a key selling point was safety. Stew bought a 2012 S1000RR with traction control and ABS, two safety features that became very important for Stew following his accident.

“The ABS was a big one for me because I wouldn’t have gotten into the accident if I had ABS. The back tire wouldn’t have locked up and swung out as far as it did,” says Stew.

Decisions, Decisions

My co-workers ride motorcycles for a number of different reasons, and their shopping decisions were influenced by several different factors. Chris wanted sporty performance, as did Stew, though he placed a premium on safety technologies such as ABS and traction control. Adam also wanted sporty performance but wanted comfortable ergonomics for his tall frame. Jordan wanted a motorcycle, preferably from BMW, that could ably handle long distances.

For me, my needs are practical in nature. I want a motorcycle to serve as an everyday commuter for urban riding. Good fuel economy is thus more important to me than power-to-weight ratios or off-road touring capabilities. Though it would not have been a factor in my accident as it would in Stew’s crash, I would be more inclined towards a bike with ABS than a similar model without the technology.

A Whole New Concept

Perhaps that’s why my interest was piqued when Honda first announced its New Concept platform featuring the NC700X, the NC700S and the more scooter-flavored Integra. The Integra is not being offered in North America but it was somewhat of a surprise the adventure-styled NC700X will be a part of Honda’s 2012 North American offerings. The NC700S is not available in the U.S., but Honda Canada will offer the more standard-styled member of the NC family, the 700S.

I say the NC700 series was a bit of a surprise for the North American market because it really does represent a “New Concept” for the U.S. and Canada. In other markets, motorcycles are more likely to be viewed as practical modes of transportation, whereas motorcycles in North America are viewed more as leisure vehicles. North American consumers view motorcycles more as toys than tools.

Practicality is the key theme behind Honda's new NC700X.

It’s easy for manufacturers to market a motorcycle by pushing its horsepower numbers or hyping its racing success. “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday,” as the old adage goes. For the NC700 models however, the biggest selling point is practicality. Honda’s new 670cc Twin-cylinder engines may not produce as much power as similar-sized engines from other manufacturers, but the NC engines do promise better fuel economy. That may not sound as sexy as “MotoGP-derived technology”, so Honda will need to take a different approach with the NC700X and NC700S.

In his review of the NC700X, Associate Editor Troy Siahaan says he got about 60.7 mpg on his 150-mile test, and it’s fair to say I’ll get better mileage than our throttle-twisting racer boy. By contrast, my 1989 Suzuki GS500E usually averaged less than 50 mpg while producing a few less horses than the NC700X.

According to Honda’s research, most motorcycle riders spent 90% of their time at speeds under 85 mph, so Honda seems confident the NC700X can meet consumers’ needs with a claimed 51 hp at the crankshaft. Honda’s research also found riders spent 80% of the time with their engines revving slower than 6000 rpm, so the NC700 engine is designed with a redline of 6500 rpm, a relatively low number for an engine of its size.

By contrast, my 1989 Suzuki GS500E offered similar power with a claimed output of 52 hp at the crank, though it reaches that peak at 9200 rpm while the NC700X reaches its maximum much sooner at 6250 rpm. I usually upshifted my GS500E at around 6000, so I fit the profile from Honda’s study.

The fuel tank hump on the NC700X is actually a storage area. The fuel tank is under the seat, accessible by lifting the passenger seat.

One of the reasons I bought the GS500E was because the prior owner threw in a tank bag and a set of panniers for storage. The NC700X comes with its own built-in storage compartment in its faux fuel tank. The actual fuel tank lies under the seat while the 21-liter storage space was made possible by the engine cylinders being tilted 62 degrees from the vertical. This feature isn’t unique to the NC700X; the Aprilia Mana has a similar storage area, as did the BMW F650CS produced from 2001-2005. Nevertheless, the storage space is a big selling point, and combined with the tank bags and panniers I kept from the GS500E, I would have more than enough room to carry around what I need.

In the U.S., American Honda offers a base model NC700X and an upgraded version with ABS and dual-clutch transmission. Up here in Canada, however, we only have the option of ABS and non-ABS equipped versions. The lack of a dual-clutch option doesn’t bother me, though, and I would imagine some American consumers would like an ABS-equipped version without having to pay more for DCT. Of course, Honda Canada also offers the NC700S, again with or without ABS, while American Honda does not offer that standard-styled version.

Available in Canada, the NC700S has a shorter wheelbase and lower bars and less suspension travel than the NC700X while weighing about 7 pounds lighter.

Promising good fuel economy, practical storage space and newbie-friendly capabilities, the Honda NC700X seems to be tailor-made to suit my needs. Having read Troy’s review, I’m interested in seeing whether that is indeed the case.

Related Reading
Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: Motorcycle Ownership
Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: The First Accident
Motorcycle Beginner - Year 2: Canadian Superbikes at Mosport
Motorcycle Beginner: I Want to Ride
Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Riding Gear
Motorcycle Beginner: Rider Training
Motorcycle Beginner Diary: What I Love About Being a Motorcyclist
Motorcycle Beginner: 2011 Honda CBR250R Newbie Review

Dennis Chung
Dennis Chung

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